PITTSBURGH – Their hopes of reaching the playoffs all but gone after back-to-back losses, the Steelers face the rare prospect of playing out the string in their final three games and hoping to avoid the first losing season since 2003.
There are plenty of could have, would have, should have questions surrounding the Steelers this season, including Antonio Brown nearly scoring on the final play of Sunday’s 34-28 loss to Miami.
But Brown grazed the sideline with his left foot at the Miami 12-yard line on his way into the end zone, sending the Steelers to another loss and a 5-8 record.
The Steelers aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention – yet – but the vultures are certainly circling.
“It’s tough,” said safety Ryan Clark, one of a number of veterans who are in the final year of their contract. “You just got to keep playing, though. And I think one thing we understand is every time we go out on the field, there’s film running. The Pittsburgh Steelers, the organization, is going to watch that film. They’ll watch to see who’s still playing hard. They’ll watch to see who it still matters to.
“I know it matters to me because, for some of us, this may be the last however many games in a Pittsburgh Steelers helmet. So you want to play well.”
Clark has been part of a defense that continually let the Steelers down this season.
While the offense struggled in the first two games, scoring a combined 19 points, it’s been solid since, averaging 24.7 points over the past 11 games.
But the defense hasn’t always been up to its usual standards. Pittsburgh has given up 16 plays of more than 40 yards, including three to the Dolphins Sunday. Miami finished with 181 yards rushing.
The Steelers are 2-6 in games in which they allow a play of 40 or more yards.
“We take pride in going and playing Dick LeBeau defense,” said cornerback William Gay, referring to the defensive coordinator. “We want to be aggressive and not give up big plays. But we have this year. That’s not the way we play defense.”
It has been this season.
“It hasn’t been an issue (in previous years),” said linebacker LaMarr Woodley. “But we’re not the same team we were back in the day. It won’t be the same team 10 years from now. It’s going to be a different team every year.”
It certainly figures to be next season, something the players are acutely aware of. The front office made numerous changes last offseason following an 8-8 season.
Considering the best the Steelers can finish this year is 8-8, more changes could be in order.
“I don’t control none of that,” said cornerback Ike Taylor. “All I do is play football.”
As Clark said, there will be some added scrutiny on how the team plays the final three games.
“I don’t see this team giving up, lying down or anything,” said rookie running back Le’Veon Bell. “We have competitors who want to get this going in the right direction, so we will do whatever it takes.”
Thus far, whatever it takes hasn’t been good enough. The Steelers haven’t been good enough to overcome even the slightest mistake.
“We can do one of two things, tank, or stand up after getting knocked down,” said defensive end Ziggy Hood. “I believe in my heart we are going to stand. Knees may be wobbling, ankles may be hurting, but we are going to stand and stand tall. Even if we have to brace each other on our shoulders and backs, we are going to stand tall.”
Odds and end zones
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ranks fifth in the NFL in passing yardage with 3,724. ... The Steelers will celebrate the inaugural NFL Homecoming when they host the Bengals Sunday night. Pro Football Hall of Fame members Franco Harris and Mel Blount will serve as honorary captains, while the Steelerettes, the team’s cheerleaders from 1961 through 1969, will lead the Terrible Towel twirl on the field before the game.